Estimates of the DROP program put the cost of its implementation from $100 to $250 million dollars. According to those who wish to do away with the program, that money can be better spent elsewhere and the program should be scrapped. Although there appears to be an extra cost associated with DROP, these costs all well worth it when one considers the benefits the city gets in return.
One must understand when an employee retires; the city not only has to begin paying that person their retirement benefits but must also hire a new worker to replace the retiree. Now, obviously, the new hire will cost less so there is a saving there but what the city loses in experience is often irreplaceable.
In any line of work, experience matters. It is the ability to perform one’s job efficiently and most importantly, remember how things are done so when called upon, a task can be performed. It is not only important for an individual to remember how to perform but also for the agency to remember – that is institutional knowledge.
Institutional knowledge is important for an agency to be efficient. Imagine if an agency had to relearn everything in order to complete its mission. That would be an extraordinary waste of money. Employees not only cost money in retention but they cost money in hiring and training, so their experience they take home with them upon retirement is an asset lost and irreplaceable.
An example of how important institutional knowledge can be found in our exploration of space and landing on the moon. As everyone knows, President John F. Kennedy challenged this nation to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960’s. NASA successfully took up the challenge with the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969 and Neil Armstrong exclaiming, “That is one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Mr. Armstrong’s declaration may have been true at the time, but that giant leap has essentially been lost to a collective brain drain. One of the greatest achievements in man’s history cannot be duplicated a mere forty years or so later. In order to reach the moon again, we have to re-teach ourselves how it was done, which will cost us billions of dollars. Imagine what this world would be like if the Europeans forgot how to sail across the ocean sea (today we call it the Atlantic Ocean) after Christopher Columbus’s fantastic journey?
Although local governments need for institutional knowledge may not be as dramatic, it is no less important. Knowledge that is lost comes at a cost and that cost affects all. To simple look at DROP as a gravy train for retirees is shortsighted. DROP serves the important purpose of retaining work knowledge so government can serve the public as it was designed to do.
In the continuing debate over DROP, institutional knowledge must be added to the equation as how the program will proceed in the future. It is an asset that should not be carelessly thrown away. Otherwise, what you do not remember can cost you.